“Becoming Martin”: M.L.K. in a Different Light

The Coterie Theater premiers the story of Martin Luther King as a teenager with faith and activism: this is “Becoming Martin”.


J Robert Schraeder

Walter Coppage (as Dr. Benjamin E. Mays) and Aaron Ellis (as Martin Luther King, Jr.) in The Coterie’s world premiere ofBecoming Martin, written by Kevin Willmott and directed by Chip Miller. Live on stage at The Coterie, September 18 – October 21, 2018.

by Claire Smith , Writer

Chip Miller walks into the Coterie theatre for the first time, not as an audience member, but a director. He sees familiar faces that he used to see onstage, but is now working with those actors in a world premiere production.

Becoming Martin, premiering at the Coterie theater tells the story of King and his journey through college starting at 15 years old. The production shows another side of Martin Luther King Jr. – his struggle to find his faith. Miller says that this internal battle of King’s helps audiences see the human side of King.

“I think what interested me is when they asked me to direct this play is the fact that we see Martin Luther King as this icon, we don’t really view him as ‘human’,” Miller said. We view him as a man who has a holiday named after him. So to actually investigate who the man behind the icon is to understand him, but more in a way of saying, this icon was an ordinary boy who became extraordinary”.
According to Miller, King’s faith, in the end, helped guide him to become the leader he is today.

“What this play explores is how to practice what you preach and also knowing who to preach it too,” Miller said. “Martin has to figure out – what is my faith for me, and how does that lead me in the world? I can’t just be a lawyer or a doctor, I have to be a minister because my faith and my beliefs on how to change the world come through in this”.

King’s life revolved around the balance of civil rights of the 1930’s and his faith. The discussion of civil rights fits perfectly within social studies teacher, Craig Whitney’s, curriculum.

“I like the idea of seeing historical content performed,” Whitney said, “I think it’s a great opportunity for the kids to be able to get out of school and do something like this. Academically oriented still, but it’s produced in a different way which is nice.”

His history class will not cover civil rights until the second semester, but Whitney thinks it’s convenient to have that information already introduced.

“It makes it nice that they have gone to the play, seen this, we have already talked about it, so that when you revisit this – you are able to go into more and more detail in the spring,” Whitney said.

The junior class attended this play on Oct. 5th as a field trip for their class. The play was $10 per person, and completely optional. free of choice.

“That’s how I like to set it up is to invite them to go, none of them are required to, and they could choose not to,” Whitney said. “And there are some students who are unable to go for one reason or another, but we get most of the junior class”.

Junior Liv Richardson attended the play and appreciates the relatability of a teenage Martin.

“Being an African American, you see a lot about MLK as he’s in his 30’s or late 20’s, but you don’t really get to see 15 year old Martin and what he was thinking or what was going on in his head,” Richardson said.

King’s value shines in the play, and Miller says that the play teaches students of our responsibility in society.

“I think it’s a thing that we constantly have to do of what is our responsibility as the educated, as the faithful, as whatever we are, as a society, as Americans, as our duty to see the humanity everywhere, and fight for humanity,” Miller said.